A possible solution to the farm wage debate
To the editor:
There has been much discussion and political posturing about the proposal to change the rules on overtime for farm workers. Currently, farm workers have to work more than 60 hours in a week to get overtime pay. The proposal is to gradually phase in a change to make it mandatory to pay overtime for more than 40 hours per week.
Opponents to this idea argue that farm work is different and dependent on things like weather and harvest schedules and that changing the rules would hurt farmers. Proponents argue that most hourly workers are eligible for overtime after just 40 hours per week. Farm workers should also be granted that same opportunity.
I would like to propose an alternative idea. Yes, some farm work is different and very dependent on things like weather and harvest and planting schedules, making a true 40 hour work week difficult to address. Not all farm work, however, is subject to such idiosyncrasies. Much of the farm labor in our region is related to dairy farms where the milking and feeding schedules are consistent from day to day.
In an effort to resolve both sides of this dilemma, I would propose that the rule require overtime pay for working more than 80 hours in a two week period instead of 40 hours in a one week period. This would protect the rights of the workers while also allowing the employers more flexibility to accommodate weather, etc. Rarely would a use of labor be impacted for more than a week or two demanding over-time for that full time. Other occupations that have peaks and valleys of demand also work on two week/80 hour schedules and farm labor would seem to be a good fit for such a program.
David G. Welch, MD